Imagine a dark shape in the distant sky, moving towards you. Slowly. It’s white or perhaps off white, but not as clear a color as a cloud, speckled. And it seems more solid than a cloud, and it moves in ways clouds don’t. As it comes closer, maybe a mile away now, it’s as if it’s a flying giant creature. Then, as it gets closer still, you discover that it’s really an unusual flock of birds, flying very tightly together.
That’s a good metaphor for a hard fact about decisions we make. Most of the important big decisions are really made up of thousands of small decisions.
That’s life as well as business. Maybe more life than business.
For example, everybody wants to stay healthy. That’s the big decision. But it doesn’t happen without thousands of small decisions, probably dozens every day. Do I eat the big fat breakfast? Do I take the walk? Do I work out? Do I eat too much, the wrong things, or just right for lunch? Do I drive myself crazy worrying about next week? Do I dwell on my fears or just exhale and let it go? Staying healthy isn’t a big decision but rather a steady collection of small decisions.
For example, everybody wants to do well with their work or school. That’s the big decision. But it doesn’t happen without all those small decisions. In the context of school, every day it’s the choice of homework or not, more study or not, review or not, school work or television, take a nap or read the next chapter? Do I take the extra time to research SEO? Do I write that blog post, or put it off? Do I address the poor performance or let it go? Do I make those calls or put them off? Doing well in work or school isn’t a big decision but rather a steady collection of small decisions.
In my favorite topic area, business planning, doing it right isn’t a big business plan. It’s a just-big-enough business plan that gets reviewed and revised regularly. What makes it valuable is the process, the review, the management that happens because of the contrast between what was planned and what actually happened. And that happens not once but every month, in some contexts every week. Here too, the big decision is really a collection of small ones.
And, dammit, staying with it through the small decisions is hard. We’re human. The big decisions are glaringly obvious. Do you know anybody who doesn’t want to stay healthy, or do well in work or school? But actually executing on those decisions is really hard. We are so human, all of us, that it’s really hard to stick with the big decision without wavering through all the small ones. You can make nine out of ten healthy eating decisions and if the tenth is a Big Mac it nullifies all of the other nine. You can exercise all day one day and then not again for a whole month, and you’re worse off. Consistency is the collection of the small decisions.
Making the right decisions is easy. Making them stick is hard.